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Scottish Widows

By The Drum, Administrator

May 18, 2006 | 9 min read

Sexy financial marketing. An oxymoron, if ever there was one. Yet, over the last 20 years, that’s exactly what Scottish Widows has set about doing and... in more ways than one. Today, Scottish Widows is one of Britain's most recognised brands, employing almost 4000 staff, with its investment arm handling over £83billion in funds.

However, the current strength of the brand is perhaps based on, what was then, a radical marketing decision taken in 1986 to create a living logo - the Scottish Widow herself.

With that decision, the 'Looking Good' advert was launched – at the time, one of the boldest marketing strategies the financial market had ever seen.

The Widow was created as an icon, countering the negative values associated with the word 'widow,' presenting them as positives - strength, reliability, integrity, innovation and heritage.

The first ‘Widow’ chosen to portray the company's brand values was Debbie Moore (daughter of actor Roger Moore), who launched Scottish Widows on television in ‘86, with the famous 'Looking Good' strap-line. David Bailey was chosen to help launch the campaign – he has shot every subsequent campaign since.

In 1994, Amanda Lamb took over the role, portraying the Widow for almost a decade.

Now, with a new TV campaign due to break later this year, a new widow has been chosen to take the iconic brand forward. Another milestone in the journey of the brand.

Model Hayley Hunt was hired at the end of last year, and already the famous black cloak has draped her shoulders in a £3m press, poster and online campaign for the first quarter of the year - again shot by Bailey.

George Andrew, head of market relations, customer and brand, has been at Scottish Widows throughout the 20 years of the Widow, more recently helping the financial company communicate its brand to the consumer.

“What we are trying to do with this campaign is communicate in new ways with the public,” says Andrew. “The public are confused when it comes to financial services. They don’t know which way to turn. They find our business complex... opaque, even.”

Despite the TV ad still being in development (through agency Leo Burnett), planned for the second half of the year, the brand relaunch has been in progress over the last few months, continues Andrew. “The messages are a lot more straight-forward than they have been in the past. More crisp and clear. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to see a financial services ad with paragraphs and paragraphs of text. There are some brands that are particularly guilty of this, but the public just aren’t interested. It’s one way to turn people off financial services.

“Issues tackled in the adverts are very much in the public mind... inheritance tax, increased retirement age and the likes. We have been quick to turn around the adverts to tackle problems in financial planning while they are at the front of the consumer’s mind.”

While Scottish Widows has invested £3m for the first quarter of the year on its “massive” brand advertising campaign, perhaps the most surprising part of the investment is that one third of the £3m was directed online.

“£1m has been ploughed online, reflecting the power of new media,” Andrew says. “As well as running online ads on personal finance sites, we also created our own website, Preparation Nation – a consumer site. The website is something completely different to what we have done in the past. It has a different tone. It’s not promoting a particular marketing message. But what we are doing is saying that the public needs to think about how they prepare for things... Preparation is everything. And that’s what we do.

“Online is playing a more major part in talking to customers than ever before. This is certainly the most we’ve ever spent online. You can’t ignore it. People are sourcing information themselves rather than taking guidance. It’s a move from a deference society to a reference society. It’s a cliché, but it’s true, and that’s why online is playing such a big part now in the campaign.”

“However, it’s still important to recognise the importance of PR,” adds Andrew. “It’s incredible value for money. If you can get your message out through the media it captures peoples attention, and if you can been seen to be speaking knowledgably, then that’s got to be good. In terms of PR, the Preparation Nation website’s probably paid for itself five or six times over.”

With the new Widow chosen and a new advertising campaign underway, a new strap-line has been developed for the push – ‘Preparation Is Everything.’ “We haven’t been of the TV for a few years,” says Andrew. “The time is right to invest again.

“It’s important to invest in the brand. But it’s also important not to make that too fragmented. It needs to be a fairly significant spend over a short period to get the real benefit and really raise public awareness. We have earmarked this year as the year that we would like to do that.

“It is important to have a consistency in our message, but first of all the message has to be the right one. In general, customers are not interested in having a product pushed at them. Unless it’s a compelling offer, the days of the hard-sell are long gone. In terms of the bigger brand messages customers are not looking for you to be prescriptive and tell them what’s good for them. What customers are looking for is companies showing that they understand the problems and issues that they face everyday and demonstrate how they can help solve these problems. Again, that’s what we are trying to do with this campaign, and it will be a recurring theme for the rest of the campaign.

“’Preparation is Everything’ generates an awareness in the public about the need to prepare – not just financially. It fits perfectly with what we do as a business, helping people prepare. We prepare people for the future. We can make the future a better place for the public.”

The government has been reviewing pensions over the last couple of years. A-Day, which has just passed, was all about simplifying pensions.

On 6 April, a new set of pension rules came into force - the big idea being to make pension saving much less complex. This presents a number of opportunities for both IFAs and for life and pension companies, and Scottish Widows is in a good position to capitalise.

“There are issues. Certain areas have gone wrong in the pensions business, as a whole, but they seems to be outweighed by the opportunities that are now being presented,” says Andrew. “The whole pensions system is becoming a lot simpler. The job is now to transfer that simplicity to the consumer through our communications.

“There are a proportion of consumers that are receptive to such messages,” he continues. “We undertook some significant research last year – the UK pensions report – for the first time ever tracking consumer behaviour on pensions - studying what percentage of the population are saving adequately and what percentage are not.

“What was interesting about the findings of the report was that it didn’t just come down to trust. It was much more to do with psychology and the way people think about the future.

“For many of the public it [pensions] is something that they just don’t want to think about. Interestingly, a lot of people who are not saving are earning very good salaries. One in three that are not saving are earning over £30K a year, which is illustrative of that shorter-term horizon.”

Scottish Widows is proud of its brand, guarding its use jealously. Agencies that have worked with the company have often cited it as one of the most difficult to work with, due to the strict reign it governs the Widow with.

However, Andrew says that this is only natural, with the brand being one of the three pillars of strength that the company has been built on.

“We have three corporate assets – financial strength, distribution and ‘the brand’. The brand is a hugely valuable asset. We are uniquely placed because we have such a strong brand. What’s more, an iconic brand. How many iconic brands can you name off the top of your head? Especially in the financial arena. So we guard it jealously.

“But, having said that, we do want to communicate in new ways with the public and make the brand less remote and more approachable.

“The Widow is just as relevant as she ever has been. Our brand is trusted by the public, and that – in a financial services industry that has been plagued with problems in terms of trust – is vitally important. The fact that it’s iconic and a female brand all help in the mix too.

“Being a Scottish company is also a big advantage. The heritage we have is a big advantage [Scottish Widows was founded in 1815, to provide for ‘widows, sisters and other females’ of deceased clergymen, schoolmasters and the like]. We’ve been around for a long time, and Scots have a good reputation for managing people’s money. The Scottish financial sector is a massive contributor to the Scottish economy... Being a ‘Scottish’ Widows can only be a strength, really.”

Perhaps the fourth pillar of the Widow’s strength is its staff. Throughout the company’s massive Edinburgh Headquarters there are reminders of its values, even intranet links for staff to view the most recent communications campaigns.

“It is essential to get the staff onboard,” says Andrew. “You can’t undertake a branding exercise and you can’t communicate what you stand for as a company without your staff being fully engaged. Talking about living the brand has become a bit of a clique, but you shouldn’t be doing an advertising campaign, you shouldn’t be promoting your brand and you shouldn’t be talking to the public about products and services unless the people who work for the company are right behind it and understand it.”

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